Palestinian Authority police officers stand guard in the West Bank [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian Authority is suppressing political expression in the West Bank, Human Right Watch says.
The statement followed a clampdown by PA security forces on Hamas-affiliated students.
“It is deeply worrying that students are being held by Palestinian forces for no apparent reason other than their connection to Hamas or their opinions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, AFP reported on Thursday.
The rights group cited figures provided by Addameer – Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian organization monitoring the treatment of prisoners by authorities in the West Bank.
Addameer said that in the wake of student elections at Bir Zeit University, north of Ramallah, on April 22, PA security forces had unjustifiably detained 25 students.
An Islamist student group, affiliated with Hamas, Fatah’s arch-adversary, swept the latter’s supporters out of power in the vote.
In the absence of elections in the PA, student elections are viewed by some as an accurate barometer of the political climate in Palestinian society.
Three days following the vote at Bir Zeit, PA security personnel arrested Jihad Salim, a representative of the Hamas-affiliated student group, jailing him for 24 hours and allegedly beating him during the interrogation.
“They started cursing my mother, cursing my sisters, slapping me around. Then they punched me, while asking questions about how Hamas won the elections,” Salim told Addameer.
Three days after Salim’s arrest, Ayman Abu Aram was also held for 24 hours and interrogated about his connection to Hamas.
On April 30, the home of Musab Zalum, another member of the Islamist student group, was raided and while he was not arrested, the incident kept him away from his home and the university campus.
Human Rights Watch asked Adnan Damiri, the PA’s security spokesman, to explain the arrests and apparent intimidation.
“We never arrest people for their speech or for their political affiliations,” Damari told HRW.
Damari went on to describe the students as dissidents posing an existential danger to Palestinian society, saying that “these people have been arrested for the criminal charge of incitement of sectarian violence and other criminal charges.”
In the last two years, the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas has arrested and brutalized two students for posting critical statements online.
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